Sprawling impoundments present daunting challenges to bass anglers, especially to first-time visitors. With hundreds of miles of shoreline, a vast array of potential underwater structure, and countless patterns to sort through, the overbearing question is “Where do I begin?”
From late summer through fall, the answer is a strategy that pays off regularly for Texan Alton Jones, a successful tournament fisherman who finds bass fast on big impoundments throughout the country. Jones concentrates on what he calls the “magic miles.” This entails the first mile of an impoundment just below the mouth of a major feeder creek or river, and the first mile of the feeder leading into the impoundment. Somewhere within this 2-mile stretch is a mother lode of bass.
Since he knows he’ll be fishing shallow water-which is usually stained-Jones confidently ties on effective lures ahead of time. A typical arsenal includes: flipping rods paired with a jig-and-pig, a Texas-rigged tube, and a plastic worm; a stiff baitcasting outfit rigged with a throbbing Colorado-bladed spinnerbait; and a soft baitcasting rod for slinging a wide-wobbling crankbait, such as an Excalibur Fat Free Shad.
From mid- to late summer, Jones begins fishing the lower end of this magic water and works his way up into the feeder. In the fall, he idles a mile up the creek or river and fishes his way back down. “A mile below the creek mouth you have two options,” says Jones. “One is the creek channel that cuts through a flat, which may be as deep as 8 feet. The other is the cover on the bank. There may be hundreds of yards of dead water between the channel and the bank.”
In the upper reaches of most impoundments, the predominant cover consists of wood. In a creek channel that wends through a flat, the wood is either snags or submerged stumps along the channel’s edge. Jones puts his boat over the channel and follows it upstream with the help of a depthfinder. He uses his spinnerbait to probe visible snags, whereas stumps below the surface get worked over with the crankbait. Stumps along outside bends receive extra attention, as they often attract gangs of bass. If the spinnerbait and crankbait fail to trigger strikes, Jones slows down and dissects the cover with a flipping rod. Should he discover a hotspot along the creek channel, Jones notes landmarks to avoid wasting time on return trips.
When he fishes shorelines bordering flats, Jones investigates windfalls and other cover with the spinnerbait and the various lures tied to his flipping rods. If he fishes the first mile of creek channel leading up to the creek and its adjacent shorelines with little action, he continues up into the feeder. Here the tributary is confined to its original banks, and the bass relate to whatever cover embellishes the shoreline.
**Grace Period **
Once he locates a concentration of bass, Jones believes the productive area will continue to yield fish for several days, provided there isn’t a significant change in the water level. This is enough time to keep him in bass throughout a tournament, or a vacationing fisherman in tall cotton during his visit. “The bass migration through this zone is usually a long-term trend,” says Jones. “They don’t disappear overnight. If I find bass 3 feet deep along the edge of the creek channel a few hundred yards outside the creek mouth, I ought to be able to catch them there for up to a 10-day period.”
If the bass should move, Jones doesn’t panic. He knows he can relocate them quickly by searching elsewhere within the magic miles.
“A big impoundment is overwhelming,” says Jones, “but I think we all can agree that 2 miles of water isn’t so intimidating.”